Understanding Mahogany: Information from a Hardwood Lumber Supply in Houston

Mahogany is widely considered to be a luxurious wood that gets better with age. It is a highly workable and stable wood with excellent rot resistance and a gorgeous grain.

However, it’s important to understand that there are many different types of mahogany—some of which are better than others. Here’s a quick overview of the kinds of mahogany you may come across at your local hardwood lumber supply in Houston, and how you can determine which ones are the best.

Premier mahogany: Swietenia

The Swietenia genus of the mahogany tree is also referred to as “genuine mahogany,” and produces the highest-quality woods. Cuban mahogany, for example, is known as the original mahogany. The massive trees produce outstanding lumber, but the species isn’t as common these days because of overlogging and wastefulness. Another example is Honduran mahogany, which is also sold as American Mahogany, Genuine Mahogany, Big-Leaf Mahogany and Brazilian Mahogany.

You can tell a Swietenia mahogany because of the endgrain, which will have rows of light brown cells at the borders of every growth ring. Other types of mahogany will not have these bands of brown cells. On finished pieces of mahogany, Swietenia species will have ripple marks on a flatsawn surface.

Khaya mahogany

This is the African genus of mahogany. For all intents and purposes it is close enough in characteristics to be considered “real” mahogany, though some purists may argue. African mahogany can be identified by an endgrain that does not have discernible growth rings or ripple marks. In addition, Khaya mahogany wood tends to have interlocked grains and more pronounced ribbon-stripe patterns that are especially obvious when the wood is quartersawn.

Meliaceae mahogany

This type of mahogany is at the fringe of what most wood purists would consider to be actual mahogany. It comprises species that are technically related to the mahogany tree.

One example is Sapele. It is similar to mahogany in the sense that it is an extremely large tree that yields high-quality lumber that closely resembles genuine mahogany in its appearance and other properties. However, it has unique characteristics of its own as well. It is darker and heavier than genuine mahogany, and has more varieties of figured grain. It also has an interlocked grain, which means it can be harder to work with than genuine mahogany is.

There are many other examples of these types of trees and woods that are similar to mahogany, but not quite the same as genuine mahogany.

The pretenders

There are other types of woods that might have “mahogany” on the label, but bear only a superficial resemblance to genuine mahogany and are entirely unrelated to the mahoganies most woodworkers seek.

For example, Santos mahogany is the kind of wood most likely to be used as a sales scheme to sell more wood because it has “mahogany” in the title. It has something of a likeness to actual mahoganies in its grain pattern, but it is heavier and very difficult to work. It is most commonly used for flooring.

For more information about mahogany and how to identify high-quality mahogany wood, contact us at our hardwood lumber supply in Houston.